Chin State is all mountains, and its people are mostly slash and burn subsistence farmers. Every year, the able-bodied of each village spend months cutting down acres of forest using nothing more than hatchets. Substantial logs are hatcheted into smaller pieces to be used for cooking and heating. Smaller branches are left behind, and in March, hillsides are burned to clear the land. Then, either corn or rice are planted, but the soil can only sustain one year’s corp. So the next year, more forests have to be cut.
Depleted cropland slowly turns back into forest and topsoil is rejuvenated, ready to be used again for a single year of farming 25 to 30 years later. The Chin people have been repeating this cycle for as long as anyone can remember.
Below are two photos that illustrate what they refer to as “shifting cultivation.” In the first photo, the red arrow is pointing at a distant hilltop village of about 30 homes. The blue arrow is pointing at forest recently cleared, waiting to be burned and planted in March. In the second photo, I zoomed in so you could better see that same village, and in on the slopes in the foreground, you can see former cropland that is slowly turning back into forest.
In the three villages I’ve visited today (where there are a total of 137 families and 10 churches), everyone has told me how this year’s rice harvest has been poor due to drought, and they don’t have enough stored rice to carry them to next year’s harvest. So we’ll be providing rice banks for them (a concept I’ll share more about in a future blog).
We’ve already, however, made 32 loans of $100 to $200 in two of these villages, and villagers are excited about their soon-coming profits in pigs, ginger, peanuts and sunflower seeds. In other villages where we began offerings micro-loans a few years ago, profits from cash crops have been so good that most everyone has stopped “shifting cultivation.”
I spent the better part of the day visiting borrowers in their humble homes and listening to their stories. Below are some of their portraits, with captions.